IT’S still a little difficult to get your head around seeing Harrison Ford in a TV series. A number of older movie stars, including Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, have been straddling the world of film and television for quite a few years now.
None of those, however, will be headlining, at the tender age of 80, the most anticipated movie blockbuster of the summer, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Ford’s final television role before his Star Wars breakthrough in 1977 was playing a teacher in The Possessed, a largely forgotten TV film about demonic possession at a girls’ school.
Leaving aside his narration of documentaries about his two passions, aviation and the environment, Ford’s TV appearances over the next 45 years numbered precisely two: the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) and a guest appearance in the first episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1992.
Somehow he always seemed too big, too iconic, too Fordian to ever want or need to go back to acting on television. But he’s started 2023 with a double-whammy: the Yellowstone prequel 1923 on Paramount+ and now the comedy-drama Shrinking (Apple TV+).
Of the two series, Shrinking, co-created by star Jason Segel and Ted Lasso duo Bill Lawrence and Brett Goldstein, gives us the Ford I like best: wry and deadpan. I don’t know if the role was written specifically with the actor in mind, but it fits him as snugly as Indiana Jones’s brown fedora.
He’s wonderful here (and clearly enjoying himself enormously), squeezing maximum comedy juice from his character Paul’s grumpy, no-hugs persona and stinging one-liners.
Paul is the boss of Jimmy (Segel), a cognitive behavioural therapist who’s in a downward spiral a year after the death of his wife Tia (Lilan Bowden, seen in flashback) in a car accident. Jimmy is drowning in grief and wracked with guilt; the last thing he and Tia did before her death was argue.
His once close relationship with his teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell) has been strained to breaking point. He seems to be oblivious to her suffering.
In one of the rare moments when she actually talks to him – most of the time she can’t stand to be in the room with him – she reminds him that he’s not the only one who’s feeling lost.
Jimmy has effectively farmed out parental responsibility for Alice to his next-door neighbour Liz (Christa Miller). He’s also spent the past year ignoring his best friend Brian (Michael Urie), a lawyer.
His personal life is a mess and it’s affecting his work too. He’s suffering from “compassionate fatigue”.
Put plainly, he’s fed up listening to the same patients complaining about the same things for months, and in some cases years, on end without ever doing anything about it. One day, nursing the mother of all hangovers after a rough night’s partying in his backyard pool with a couple of sex workers, he begins telling them exactly what he thinks and offering some very un-therapist-like advice.
He tells a woman to leave her bullying, abusive husband, which she does. A man who complains about being lonely is told its it’s own fault, because he’s so unpleasant to everyone he comes into contact with.
Amazingly, it works. Rejuvenated by this radical new approach, Jimmy befriends a patient called Sean (Luke Tennie), an ex-soldier who’s having difficulty controlling his violent rages. The results are far from what you’d probably expect.
There’s a superficial resemblance to Ricky Gervais’s After Life. But where every other character in that series was a punchbag, sounding board or emotional comfort pillow for the protagonist’s grief-soaked solipsism, Shrinking is very much an ensemble piece, splendidly performed by an excellent cast.
All the characters are well-rounded with convincing inner lives, especially Ford’s Paul, whose relationship with his own daughter is broken. Privacy-obsessed (he calls his house his “fortress of solitude”), he’s keeping this, as well as his Parkinson’s disease, a secret from everyone.
Well, everyone except Alice, who he’s been quietly meeting and providing with grandfatherly support and advice.
I’ve always been rather agnostic about Ted Lasso. Shrinking, though, is a treat.